Artisans craft a new life thanks to dough figurines

2021-10-14 15:37:52 , Source : China Daily

XI'AN-As a time-honored tradition in China, with a history stretching back more than 1,000 years, dough figurines will revive many people's memories of childhood.

However, unlike other children who just play with the figurines, Zhang Beiyuan, from Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, learned the craft of creating them from his uncle when he was young.

With wheat flour as the main material, folk artists mix it with oil, salt, vinegar and other ingredients. By using their hands and simple tools like scissors and bamboo sticks, artists knead and pinch the dough to form lifelike figures.

In 2015, after studying animation and sculpture in Japan for eight years, Zhang decided to return to his hometown and use his knowledge to promote the ancient art of dough figurines. Not long afterward, he married his classmate Zhao Jingjing, who had studied animation in France and worked in the field for five years. The couple, with a shared love for traditional Chinese culture, decided to pursue a career making dough figurines.

The couple often brainstorm ideas together, incorporating their professional knowledge of modern art, sculpture and animation design into the ancient handicraft.

Recalling seeing the Impressionist masterpieces in Europe, Zhao says that she appreciated them from the bottom of her heart. Similarly, her foreign friends were amazed by China's intangible cultural heritage and artistic creations. "We believe, despite the different cultural contexts, people everywhere share the same quest for art and a common taste for beauty," Zhao says, adding that many foreigners and overseas Chinese have come to learn how to make dough figurines.

There was a US girl who went to visit Xi'an with her family for four days, and she spent three days learning how to craft the dough sculptures, Zhao says. And an Australian friend of the couple is teaching a course in Sydney after studying the traditional art in China, she adds with pride.

In recent years, China has rolled out a slew of measures to strengthen the protection of the country's intangible cultural heritage. According to a new guideline released in August, China plans to spread and popularize intangible cultural heritage while integrating it into the national education system by offering related courses in primary and middle schools.

For the past three years, they have also been teaching the younger generation how to make dough figurines.

Zhang says that the children usually start by making simple modern cartoon characters that are popular among their age group, then they will teach them to make dough likenesses of classic Chinese figures, while introducing traditional culture, such as anecdotes or stories related to the characters.

The couple say that they are glad to see the country is providing strong support for the creation and protection of old handicrafts, and more young people are devoting themselves to artisan pastimes.

Going forward, they aspire to make dough figurines more popular in the market by adapting the craft for modern tastes, so that the craft will not just survive, but thrive.


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